We need more foster carers from diverse backgrounds to meet the growing demand of children and young people coming into care. At present there are 3,155 children and young people living in foster care in Northern Ireland, both in kinship and non-kinship foster care.
We are privileged to have so many wonderful HSC NI foster carers currently providing safe and nurturing homes for the children and young people in our care.
Every child and young person deserves to live in a stable and loving home, where they feel seen and heard, where they have boundaries and acceptance, and where they are encouraged to believe in themselves and their future.
If you think you could make a difference in a child or young person’s life by becoming a foster carer, please get in touch to find out more. It could be the most rewarding thing you ever do.
WATCH: Richard, one of our foster carers, talk about his experience fostering with HSC NI Foster Care:
Jean and Ivan
Jean and Ivan Henry have provided a loving and stable home for a number of foster children.
Jean says: “We have been fostering for over 20 years and in that time we have given many children a home through long-term placements. All of the children we have fostered have moved on either to go to work or university, and we keep in touch so we know how they are getting on with their lives.
“One of our foster children, Titto, came to us when he was 12 years old from India. He lived with us for several years until he started university. Titto and my son became so close that he was best man at my son’s wedding. He gave the most amazing speech; it was just lovely and very heartfelt. Titto even changed his surname by deed poll to ours. We are looking forward to seeing him soon to celebrate his birthday. He still comes home to visit us at least once a year, and we have been across the water to see him too. We could not be prouder of Titto and when he got a place at university in London, we took the ferry, drove him over with all his stuff, and got him settled in.
“Like any family we have had our ups and down, however the good times by far outweigh any bad ones. We have found fostering so rewarding; it really has enriched our lives and has been an amazing journey so far.”
Erica and Aidan
Erica and her husband Aidan decided to explore the option of fostering six years ago, and they have since gone on to provide a loving and stable home for John*.
Erica says: “John was referred to me when he was five years old and while I was working with him I became aware that he couldn’t return to his family and that he would need long-term foster care. I went home and talked to my husband about fostering John and Aidan said ‘we can look after him’. We had already reared our family and our son had flown the nest and we both wanted to give this little boy a happy home. The Western Trust were so helpful; we met John’s social worker who began the process, arranged training and support and we soon became John’s long-term carers. John moved in on 14 February 2014, a day I will never forget.
“There have been challenges as John has a learning disability and autism; he was unable to speak, he still drank from a bottle and didn’t eat solid food. John is a very different boy now; we taught him how to communicate, to eat food, to take medicine and to tell us if he needs anything. One day last week, I called him in from playing on his trampoline when dinner was ready. We were all sitting around the table and Aidan and I started to chat, then John started to giggle and held out his arm, which means he wants to join in the conversation too. So he started to talk about his toys, people he knows like my mother, who had come to visit. He really has come on in leaps and bounds.”
*John’s name has been changed to protect his identity.
Faye and Stephen
Faye and Stephen Neville from Moy, Co. Tyrone are a shining example of the commitment, passion and dedication of our HSC NI foster carers.
The have been fostering for over five years and say being long term foster carers for a sibling group has brought so much joy and happiness to their family.
The couple have four children of their own aged 24, 21, 19 and 18, all of whom live at home. The family opened up their home and their hearts to three young brothers, who at that time were aged four, three and two. Since then life has been a rollercoaster for the family, but they insist they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Five years on, Faye says they have no regrets about their decision to become foster carers. She says the boys, now aged nine, eight and seven, are “doing great” and are very much part of their family.
Explaining why they took the decision to become foster carers, she continued: “We always had this feeling that if something ever happened to Stephen and I then we would like to think that there would be someone kind enough to look after our children.
In the early days we didn’t know if we wanted to do long term, short term or respite fostering – the only thing we were sure of was that we wanted it to be a sibling group.
It’s traumatic enough for these young people to be removed from their birth families and taken into the care system without having to be separated from their siblings. The boys share a bedroom and as long as they’re together, they are all right. It gives them a sense of normality and security, they just have this unbreakable bond.
It has been so good to watch the children grow and progress and do well at school and enjoy all the wee groups they’re in. We actually really enjoyed our time together during lockdown. We made sure we had a good routine in place for home schooling and the boys just loved the new experiences they had after their school work, like sowing a wildflower garden, roasting marshmallows and having 3 o’clock tea each day with freshly baked cakes. We all looked forward to that!”
Stressing that the decision to start fostering wasn’t only taken by her and Stephen, Faye says her children were very positive about the move and have “really embraced” the fostering experience.
“We discussed it with them before we decided to do it. It’s very important that you discuss it with your own family because it does bring changes to your family unit,” she says. “They’re great with the children and really encourage them, it has kept them busy too!”
Stephen and Faye’s daughter Katie, 21, says she and her siblings didn’t know quite what to expect from the experience initially, but is delighted with how things have turned out.
“We all clicked like we had met before. It just seemed to work. Mum and Dad understood how to handle three young siblings very well and knew every trick in the book.
At the start I didn’t know much about fostering, until I began to learn how much we have influenced three young lives. How much they have grown and developed, gaining self-belief and happiness all under one roof.”
Faye and her family have received “great support” from their local Trust and its social workers since they began fostering. “I go to as much training as I can to help me care for the boys and I’m also happy to offer a listening ear to new foster carers. I find it’s good to talk to someone who is living the life and I try to tell them that it’s OK to ask for help when you need it.”
Kathryn, foster carer for a young refugee
Kathryn from Belfast has been a foster carer for a young refugee for the last year.
Young refugees arrive into Northern Ireland for various different reasons and have been separated from their families and don’t have a support network.
“I’d been thinking about fostering for quite a while. It’s always something I wanted to do but I assumed I’d do it at a stage in my life when I was maybe settled with a partner or had my own children – but that hasn’t been my life story so far.
I’d gone overseas to work for a while and I saw first-hand how difficult it can be living in a new country and had those experiences of trying to learn a new language and find my way about. I survived because a family took me in and helped me and I wondered if I could do something like that for a young person coming to Northern Ireland.
My young person is at a stage when he’s becoming more independent. I see my role as like a big sister, cousin or aunt who’s there to help prepare him for living on his own. I help him with practical tasks like showing him where to shop for the foods he likes, how to do his own laundry, where to buy clothes, buying a bus ticket and understanding a timetable so he can get around the city. I want to boost his confidence especially as he’s still learning English – and doing great with it. It’s important that he feels safe and secure.
We also do fun thing together. I suppose options were a bit limited during lockdown but we went for dog walks, bike rides, walks on the beach and watched lots of movies with subtitles – we made our way through the whole Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Star Trek series! Its been really nice to share these first experiences with him and watch him grow and become more comfortable.
Application and support
At the start I wasn’t sure if fostering would be for me. I found the application and training you go on to decide whether you want to foster really helpful – it got to the bottom of what I was able to give as a foster carer. Fostering a young refugee became the natural fit for me and my lifestyle. You have choices the whole way through the process. Be honest with your social worker, say what you think you need. I’ve found them a great source of support – I know they’re just at the other end of the phone if I need anything – it’s so reassuring know that I’m not on my own doing this – it’s OK to ask for help.”
If you’re not sure, check it out, ask the questions – see if fostering is for you. You’ll soon figure it out. It has been a great journey for me – give it a go!”
Bronagh and Damian
Bronagh and Damian from Newry started their fostering journey nearly three years ago and are caring for siblings on a long-term basis. They have grown up children of their own.
“We’d thought about fostering for years – when the kids left home the house felt too quiet and too clean, we missed the hustle and bustle of the every day,” says Bronagh.
“They’re just normal sisters. They enjoy feeding the horses, being out on the trampoline, they’re into their make-up and fight over the hair straighteners! Ultimately though, they’re really good support for each other.
It’s so lovely to have someone who needs you – it gives us a real sense of purpose and you see the world in a different way.
We try and do things together like go for walks and picnics, head out shopping and have movie night on a Saturday.
We can always find reasons not to do something – so I’d encourage anyone who has been thinking about it to go for it. It is the best thing we ever decided to do – they’ve brought so much goodness to our lives. Our whole family have benefited from having them here.
There’s always support at the other end of the phone too so you’re not alone.
What’s important is day to day life – normal and boring life is underestimated and wonderful!” she adds.
Dylan (25), from Newtownabbey, is a single foster carer who looks after teenagers with disabilities on a short-term basis.
Approved last year, he has always wanted to foster but wasn’t sure if he could foster as a single person. Having taken the initial step to find out about fostering he embarked on a journey and hasn’t looked back.
For anyone considering becoming a foster carer Dylan says: “Go for it! I thought about fostering from a very young age and recently turned my motivation into reality. Don’t rule yourself out because you don’t think you are a stereotypical foster carer.
I have worked with young people for years and I’m glad I can now use those skills to provide support and security to young people who need a home. Go along to your local HSC NI Foster Care information session and learn more about what fostering involves, and don’t forget to have fun along the way.”
Ann Marie & Gary
Ann Marie and Gary from Derry began their fostering journey 19 years ago. They are caring for a 4 year old child on a long term basis and have 2 adopted children.
“We thought about fostering for quite a while. We couldn’t have our own children and after we hosted a child from Romania for a few weeks we thought, could we help other children out there?” says Ann Marie.
“Children in foster care need a place to call home, somewhere where they feel safe, and secure and know that there’s someone there to care for them. It’s about giving the child a good start in life and normal routines are very important. We take walks in the park and the beach – even if it’s raining, play football together – the every day things that matter.
Our supervising social worker is always at the end of the phone if we need anything and is a great listening ear and our extended family are also very supportive of us. I have also found that foster carers support other foster carers.
Ups and Downs
Yes, there’s ups and downs, but I wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t more positives to fostering. It makes us a family. I’d encourage anyone who has been thinking about it to enquire – get more information to see if it would suit your life. You do need spare time but the children have brought so much joy to our house. When you watch a wee child grow in self-esteem and confidence and see them doing really well at school, that is reward enough for me,” she adds.
Watch Ann Marie’s video:
Bronagh & Michael
Bronagh and her husband Michael from Lisburn have been fostering for almost five years. They have three sons and decided to open their home to young people who needed their support.
“Myself and my husband both wanted to be foster carers for quite a while and knew that we had a lot to give, but didn’t have the space. Around six years ago we renovated our house so decided to take the step forward as foster carers, and we haven’t looked back.
Before I started fostering I was in a full time job working long hours and we intended for my husband to be the primary carer. After around four months I was already in love with fostering and it became my main priority. I decided to step into the role as primary carer, my husband went back to work full time and I supported him with the family business.
For anyone thinking of fostering Bronagh says: “I would say it’s very rewarding and you won’t regret it. It’s not without its challenges but it has changed our family life for the better.”
Geraldine from Banbridge is a single foster carer and began her fostering journey around 20 years ago. She has been caring for a 16 year old for the last 10 years and also looks after a 9 year old child for the last 2 years. She has 3 grown up children of her own who are living independently.
“My neighbour was a foster carer and she used to bring the foster child she cared for round to play with my daughter. I just love what I do – I need to be needed! I’d be lost without them,” she says.
“The assessment process was detailed, there’s no doubt but I understood why it needed to be so thorough. I’ve actually been part of the fostering panel for the last 8 years and see new foster carers get approved. The assessment and skills to foster training made you look at your life, I found it interesting. I still try and get to training – there’s always something new to learn.
Fostering during lockdown
I will look back on the time we spent together during lockdown with great fondness. We made the most out of a challenging time and focused on what we could do rather than what we couldn’t. The three of us went for daily walks together along the River Bann. We listened to the birds, watched the horse and her foal, talked about the wildflowers and all the things that we were grateful for, they just loved it. It was the sense of togetherness that was lovely.
We also took part in a cookery programme organised by our local fostering team, which we really enjoyed. We watch TV together, sit down and chat during dinner, make plans for our upcoming camping trip – it’s all those normal every day things that really matter.
Foster care is about helping children and young people but I also get so much out of it – it is so rewarding. When they give me a hug it means so much to me. They become just part of your family. Not a day goes by that I don’t have a good laugh with the girls – they bring so much joy to me,” she says.
As a former nurse and single foster carer, Mairead from Claudy began her fostering journey four years ago. She cares for a 15 month old and 6 year old child on a long term basis and has 2 teenage children of her own.
“My own children are fully on board with fostering. I think it has helped them really appreciate things, and they’re a good help to me too,” says Mairead.
“We as foster carers are not here to judge birth families or their lifestyles, but to work together in the best interests of their child. My role is to give these children a safe and secure home for as long as they need it.
My supervising social worker is always there for me, I know I’m not alone. The children’s social workers are also brilliant and my mum is my rock. She takes on the granny role and wider family circle are all involved too – the kids love to go out to my family’s farm and I have a close friend who really help me out as well,” she adds.
Mairead acknowledges that it can be difficult to see the children move on. “It can be very hard to say goodbye but when I know the child has thrived in my care, that makes it all worthwhile. It’s a really good start in life for them.”
Heather, foster carer for a young refugee
Why you became a foster carer for a young refugee?
I volunteered with a group which worked with families from the Syrian Community in Northern Ireland. It concerned me that if adults and families struggled to adapt and resettle into life in a strange country then how much more difficult for a young person after making that journey alone.
I often watched the news of children who take any means possible to reach a safer country from the one they’ve left behind and thought surely there has got to be something I can do to help.
Having spent 6 months in the Philippines I experienced how bewildering, isolating and frightening living in a different country can be, especially at the start. Thankfully I was made to feel very safe and welcome by the people I met and stayed with and their generous hospitality encourages me to do the same for others.
I’ve also always loved meeting people from other countries so I have a natural interest in languages and cultures.
I’m in private rental accommodation so I had a home and I had time and love to offer so it all felt right for me to start the process after seeing an advertisement for foster carers with this scheme on my work intranet.
What kind of things do you do with the young person?
When the young person was here with me it was during lockdown so we were limited to what we could do and where we could go. We visited the food market for halal food and cooked together. He showed me how to make some traditional recipes from back home. We watched Bollywood films as he had a love for Indian films. We exercised together at the beginning but he was then happy to go out on his own and used the punch bag out the back yard.
We also visited some landmarks around Northern Ireland.
We shared a lot of conversation and he picked up the English language very quickly and I enjoyed learning his language.
From the moment he came to stay with me he expressed an interest in all religions and so we had many conversations about this and about his religion Islam which he enjoyed sharing.
We drove a lot and sometimes when he felt a little stressed we got into the car and drove with his music up loud.
He loved YouTube and we watched comedy sketches which also helped with his English but also gave us both a lot of laughs.
What is your role / what do you help him with?
I helped him with understanding the asylum process and other processes he was involved in. After some meetings he would have had further questions or was upset so I helped talk over any concerns and made sure we did something relaxing like going for a drive, playing music or gaming to help de-stress and switch off. It was important for him to know he could talk about his concerns as much as he wanted and when he wanted.
I encouraged him with his English lessons online, making sure he was up in time and got logged on with the teacher, and even having this other person in his life for a couple of times a week was both beneficial for him and for me. He helped with household chores which he’d need to know about for moving on as well as helping him how to manage and understand money.
We talked a lot about life here as it is so different from his own culture, talking about social etiquette and relationships as he would be integrating more if he goes to college, starts work and for moving to a new neighbourhood.
What are the positives/ rewards?
He has gained more confidence to integrate into life in the UK and has a better understanding of what to expect from others around him. He has taught me a lot about his culture and religion. Hearing what he has been through at such a young age has challenged me with my own attitudes.
What do you get out of fostering?
Satisfaction of knowing that I have been a small part of a much bigger group of people who helped a young person feel safe, loved and protected and begin a new life for themselves. I learnt a huge amount from him.
I’ve gained a better understanding of the asylum process and the different people and stages involved.
How you found the process?
From my initial response to the advert about fostering to being approved was a lot shorter than I expected – it was roughly 7 or 8 months but I thought it would take a couple of years. The process was necessary and gave me time to reflect on each stage especially when I was asked to submit some written pieces on my own childhood and background.
My personal experience of my social worker was and is still extremely positive. They have a great knowledge of the process and answered all concerns or questions I had. The process was very gentle and reassuring especially when I had worries that maybe some of my past experiences might negatively affect my ability to foster.
What kind of support do you and young person receive?
We had great support throughout his stay with me. Although there were minimum face to face visits due to Covid we had online meetings and phone calls with professionals and he met with his guardian regularly for socially distanced walks. These were the same people throughout his process and that was a great consistent support for him.
The support is there for you but you must ask for it when you need it and not expect social workers/ other professionals to read your mind. Also, for me it was very important that I understood the terminology used in the meetings with the young person as he had many questions for me so don’t be afraid to keep asking for clarification if you don’t fully understand something.
Anything the young person has said to you that have made it worthwhile?
“You have been like a mother”
He also referred to me as ‘Old Lady’ which I loved and made me laugh – I saw it as a term of endearment!
How has the young person changed your family life?
I’m a single female and live alone but my mum has been very positively affected by him and they formed a lovely bond. It’s been heartening for her and I to share memories of his time here together.
Michelle and Matthew
Michelle and Matthew from Crossmaglen have been fostering for around 3 years. They have a 7 year old child and 3 grown up children. They are looking after a teenager on a long-term basis.
“We’d thought about fostering for quite some time. We were actually going through the process first time round, when I became pregnant with our son so we took a bit of time out. When he was 2 ½ though we thought it was time to get the ball rolling again and went for it!” says Michelle, a classroom assistant.
She continues: “We think its been really good for our son to share his home with another young person who needed a loving home and to understand that life can be difficult for some children.
We actually found the assessment very useful – lots of people perhaps don’t think they have the necessary skills or experience – but we found looking into our past made us realise we had more experience than we thought.
Training & support
Being a working parent, I’ve found online training more flexible as we can sit in the evenings and take part at our leisure.
Fostering was very much a family decision – all the boys were so supportive of us taking on the foster carer role – they’re 100% behind us. Matthew’s cousin is also a foster carer so we spoke to her before we went for it – it really helped to talk to someone who is living the life of a foster carer.
Our son idolises our young teen. They’re great Nintendo switch buddies! He is just part of our family and he’s settled really well. There’s been a transformation in him since he came last year and that in itself is reward enough.
It’s a fantastic thing to do for a child to help them become the best they can be and set them up for life as an adult. I’d say to anyone thinking about fostering, go for it!”
Clare & Beth
Clare and her partner Beth have reached their one year anniversary as HSC NI foster carers, having cared for a baby since being approved in 2020.
The couple, from the North Down area, had always considered fostering but they did not know if they would be eligible.
“We always wanted a big family, so we decided to get into fostering,” says Clare. “Beth’s grandparents have been foster carers for years so she has seen first-hand the difference it can make to a child’s life. In the beginning, we thought we might not meet the criteria given we are a young, same sex couple and didn’t have children of our own. We also both work and initially lived in rented accommodation.”
“In December 2019 I came across a billboard for HSC NI Foster Care and it prompted us to have a chat about it. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, we lifted the phone to explore it further. We were so nervous, but from the first phone call we were put at ease; the staff were so friendly and inviting. Most of our assessment took place virtually and it meant we could take things at a comfortable pace,” she continues.
Clare explains, “We are still as passionate as ever about fostering. We’ve been on such an adventure over this last year! It hasn’t been without its challenges at times as we’ve have had to change our daily routine to adjust to life with a baby. Though we are surrounded by such a good team, and have great family and friends support, which has helped so much and made it more enjoyable. Our supervising social worker has been very supportive and responsive to our needs. We all have a common goal and it’s all about the child.”
“Fostering a baby has been an amazing, fun and learning experience for us and we have such great memories to cherish. The baby has not only touched our lives, but the lives of everyone in our wider circle. We feel so lucky to have been able to share important ‘first’ milestones with the baby we care for like first birthdays and first steps,” she adds.
“If you’ve been thinking about fostering and feel you can offer a child a home that’s filled with love, get in touch with HSC NI Foster Care today. It’s a decision you won’t regret. We have been treated exactly the same as any couple who foster; with respect, openness and honesty. We found the process very positive and we have learnt a lot about each other and ourselves. We wouldn’t change it for the world. If we could bottle up the happiness fostering has brought us, we could make a fortune!” she laughs.
Daniel & Lee
Daniel and his husband Lee have been fostering for nearly a year. The couple have provided short breaks for 2 young teenagers since being approved as HSC NI foster carers.
“Fostering was always on the cards for us, we’d thought about it for quite a long time,” says Daniel. “We dote on children – we’ve always been so involved with our own nieces and nephews, helping out and spending time with them, and loved the idea of having our own family.
I work with children with disabilities and I feel I’m able to use my experience to help other young people. It’s all going really well so far. Although we’re offering short breaks at the moment, we would seriously consider taking on a child or young person on a longer term basis in the future,” he adds.
“Lee and I are a good team. We feel our role is about respecting the young person, being a listening ear for them, responding to their needs and just trying to help them in any way we can.
We found the process quite long to be honest, but I think COVID probably didn’t help this as it took place during lockdown, but we always understood why it had to be thorough.
Our friends and family are so supportive of us, they’re delighted we are fostering. Our supervising social worker is just lovely. She is very honest with us and fills us in on every detail so we feel we’re prepared. We can contact her any time, it’s so good to know there’s someone there if we need back up.
For anyone thinking about fostering – I’d say go for it. It is so rewarding to give a child a good start in life. We want the young people we look after to know how much we care about them and hopefully they get so much confidence from that.”
Lee adds: “I knew from my early adult years that I wanted to foster. I had a strong role model in my mother and I wanted to give the same parental love I got to children who needed a loving home. I got very lucky to meet a partner who shared the same beliefs in fostering and the positivity it can be to a child.
In my research into fostering I read a lot about who can foster and the support they will get. I would tell anyone considering it, should it be a single person or a couple, heterosexual or same sex, to ask questions and do their research. Ask to be put in touch with a foster carer and talk with them.”
Collette, foster carer who transitions children onto adoption
Collette has been a foster carer for 15 years, caring mainly for newborn babies and helping them eventually move on to their adoptive families. She has 4 birth children of her own, all whom were living at home when she started fostering and has a growing number of grandkids. She shares some of her thoughts on her journey:
“Babies have been such a blessing in our house, they slot right in. I have so much family support, everyone chips in and they’re always around. I’ve cared for babies for anything from 4 weeks to the longest which was 2 years 7 months.
“It is the hardest thing to say goodbye but it’s because we have open hearts that we can do it. It is the loveliest thing in the world to foster and if your heart doesn’t break each time a child moves on, you haven’t done it right.
“One wee girl that we cared for for almost a year, I took a video of her and shared it with her adoptive parents. To see the look that passed between them when they saw her for the first time, it was priceless. Although there’s no expectation for adoptive parents to keep in touch, I’ve found the majority still do, like sending photos of the children as they grow, which is so nice.
“Even though the children are so young, I try to prepare them for moving on, whether it’s getting them used to certain smells and items before they move on to introducing them to their new parents, anything to make them feel more comfortable with the transition. It’s important too that they feel they have permission to move on, even though they’re still so young.
“I couldn’t recommend fostering babies highly enough. There’s always someone to smile at you, to cuddle. Santa is always alive in our house!! You get to see so many firsts – smiling, waving and I try to catch as much of this as I can on video for their new families. I make sure to send lots of photos of the child’s time with me onto their forever families. It’s rewarding to know we’ve given them a really good start in life. We put our heart and soul into it and know we do a really good job.”